Westfjords – An Icelandic roadtrip

The Westfjords of Iceland are an extraordinary place in an anyhow extraordinary country. It was the part of the island I hadn’t seen yet. I was blown away by Icelands beauty many times, but here I was blown away once more.

My friend Cori visited me in Iceland last week and we were sitting together at my kitchen table thinking about what to do for her stay. She was asking me, if  I have been to every part of the island. I responded „Yes, besides the Westfjords“. That was basically the moment we decided to head north. Yeah, starting from Reykjavík you have to travel north to reach the „West“fjords. They are called Westfjords as they are the westernmost point of Iceland although located in the northwest. There is also a point where the Westfjords are the westernmost spot of Europe. I took some days off in between the national holiday – Wednesday 17th June – and the weekend. So we had plenty of time to wander around this jawdropping spot in Iceland.

Day 0 – Approach and Midnight Hitch Hikers

After work, some errands, dinner, picking up and loading the rental car we left Reykjavík pretty late. But thanks to midnight sun this doesn’t matter too much for your Icelandic travels plans in June. Our approach to the Westjords was quite unusal as we found out later. This was due to our lack of preparation. We didn’t have a look at the maps, travel literature or whatsoever – we just started driving. I am convinced every (Icelandic) roadtrip should start like this. You will stop at spots you find on the way anyway, so planning too much is not really necessary. When we left ring road #1 to access road 60 to the Westfjords we saw a hitch hiker waiting at the intersection. By then it was already close to 01:00. Jonas, a Finnish guy from Helsinki waited there to get his ride back home to Ísafjörður, the capital of the Westfjords. Well, what should we do, leave him alone in the cold night to the abandoned street? We decided to take him with us as we headed to Ísafjörður anyway. At Hrútafjörður we were so tired, that we stopped and searched for good spot to sleep.

Day 1 – Sightseeing from a Hot Pot

Early in the morning we started from our night camp further northwest. Our alarm clock this time was a herd of sheep. They gathered all around our car and bleated happily. Besides that, the midnight sun was another reason to cut our night short.  Before we hit the road again we had breakfast on the shore – this was definetly awesome! On our way we crossed Bitrufjörður, there were hardly any other cars on the road. However, we were blocked several times by panicing sheep who decided the road is a good spot to take a nap. Our new companion for the day, Jonas, always hilariously imitated them „IT’S A CAR: RUN FOR YOUR LIFE AAAAAHH“. And then Jonas saw something going on in the sea: He was sure, he saw the fin of a whale. I pulled over and all three of us stared at the slick surface of the sea. And he was right, he trained his eyes to spot whales in Húsavík – the whale watching Mekka of Iceland – as he had a workshop from the university there for one week. So, we could see some minke whales and even seals from our car. It was amazing, because for both of us it was the first time in our life we saw whales in wild nature. And this even for free. Other people pay a lot of money to see them and we could watch them feed just like that from the top of a random fjord in our cozy rental car.

Kaldalón
In front of the Kaldalón – I love how the mountains reflect in the lagoon

We continued our journey to find us some coffee. Our next stop therefore was the Museum of Icelandic Scorcery & Witchcraft in Hólmavík as it seemed to be the only open place at 11:00. We weren’t as interested into the negro pants you can also see there – some weird mojo pants out of human skin – the coffee was ok though. We headed further North as I wanted to check out Kaldalón – literally translated the „Cold Lagoon“, because it’s at the end of Drangajökull. To be frank, I expected something like a little brother of the famous Jökulsárlon down South, but that’s not what awaits you here. Instead of ice bergs in a glacial lake, you will most of all find: Silence. Remoteness. The feeling of eternity. I guess, that’s as good as icebergs and totally better than busloads of tourists, isn’t it.

Súdavík, Westfjords, Iceland
Ísafjörður in a special mood with low clouds and fog over the town

Jonas – by then already our personal local guide – told us that we could go for a swim in a nice pool in Reykjanes. But this was closed due to construction work. Well, let’s do not discuss about timing in the high season, right? But Jonas already had an alternative on hand: A natural hot pool in Heydalur along the so called water trail where you can hop in a pool while watching sights of the area. God, I love Iceland, how ingenious is that!!! So, we searched a bit in Heydalur and finally found a small pool. We splashed around, watched the great scenery and slowly continued to Ísafjörður. Please ask the owner of the land at the farm before you enter the pool – it’s private property.

Water Trail Westfjords
The so called Water Trail on the Westfjords conveniently combines sightseeing and nature relaxing

But not only out of the pool in Heydalur you will have an amazing view – also from one of the several look-outs from a mountain range like the one when you are about to enter Súðavík. Definetly take a photo stop, or two, or three. But always make sure not to stop too suddenly, especially after blind spots like after a hill, like we did, but fortunately there was no other car around. We ended our first full day at the Westfjords in the capital of this part of the country: small but lovely Ísafjörður.

Day 2 – Majestical Western Westfjords

Our first destination on the second day was Bolungarvík – the home town of my boss Binni. To reach this little village you have to cross a really freaky tunnel. I have never seen a single-laned tunnel before where you actually have just tiny, narrow stopping bays, carved into the solid rock to deal with oncoming traffic. I guess, this is just possible in this area as it is so scarcely populated. What unsettled me the most was the intersection within a dark, long tunnel … Seriously, a whole street infrastructure in a dark, long tunnel?! Of course, we were distracted and lost our way heading to the wrong place, the eco village of Suðueyri. Surprisingly, we realized our mistake at the end of the tower although it welcomed us with wafts of deep mist and sight of about 10m. We didn’t „see“, that we were on the wrong way, we just somehow „felt“ it was wrong. Female intuition, I guess. Also Bolungarvík was covered in deep fog, so we decided to head straight forward down South to Þingeyri, where we wanted to have the best coffee of the Westfjords, at least so we were told by Jonas.

After a lovely stop, having a good coffee, some waffles and a post card break we headed to the main attraction for today: The Dynjandi waterfall. The whole day was very foggy, so we almost didn’t see it coming: After we passed Hrafnseyrarheiði we could already see him from afar, waiting for us. He is literally reigning over the whole fjord like a king. This was just simply overwhelming.

Dynjandi waterfall in Westfjords
Dynjandi – The patriarch of all waterfalls

We hiked up to the sign you can see on the picture as Dynjandi also has several smaller subject waterfalls. If you stand close to it you basically have to scream to understand each other as tons of water  splashing down make a rumpus. We were so amazed by its sight, we decided to have our late lunch break right in front of it. Dress in rain gear or at least waterproof clothes when walking up there as it might get quite wet. We were still a bit wet anyway as we tested another hot pool close by the waterfall. However, it was not quite as warm as we expected it to be. Some weird menage-a-trois friends in the pool also drove us away. We ended our day at Arnarsfjörður. Maybe the most beautiful fjord of Iceland. But maybe it was just the most beautiful fjord to us, because actually this was the only fjord on that day we could enjoy in broad sunlight. All the others were covered in low clouds or mist.

Beautiful fjords
Beautiful fjords all over the place when the mist is gone

Day 3 – Puffins and Red Beach

On our last day bright sun was our alarm clock. In the early morning we continued our journey to see everything we had on our agenda. By then we didn’t know how long our last day in the westjords will take us. Before we reached Patreksfjörður, where we wanted to start the day with some proper coffee, we passed a golf court at the end of Arnarsfjörður which is literally in the middle of nowhere. Like dozens of other Icelandic golf courts. The Icelanders passion for this outdoor sport, which feels like you can play it two weeks of the year in good conditions: without snow, storm or both, is quite odd. However, we didn’t find our coffee in Patreksfjörður, because Icelandic facilities like supermarkets, cafés or restaurants open quite late, so we continued on straight to the main attraction of the day: Látrabjarg, the best puffin spot in the Westjords. Although we didn’t waste too much time on anything we arrived there pretty late to catch the best puffin watching time, which is in the early morning (or the late evening). Puffins life at the cliffs of the Icelandic fjords while breeding and go out to fish during the day, so the best time to see them is before they go to hunt.

Puffin
My first puffins this season. Such cute little fellows

And here we re-experienced a phenomenon we faced during our whole roadtrip: Misestimating duration of routes. As the road to the Látrabjarg and to the also famous red beach of Rauðasandur is really bad, you need much more time than you might think. So, always calculate much more time while travelling in the Westfjords (or in Iceland generally). BUT: Getting there on these bumpy, dusty, winding streets is half the fun. You feel like in a video game trying to avoid as much potholes while handling the oncoming traffic and not to fall off the edge.

When we finally arrived there we were holding our expectations low as we were already quite late. But when we got out of the car at the parking lot, we could already see one of them! My first puffin!!! It was just standing there gazing at the open sea. As we approached it seemed totally relaxed and didn’t even fly away. We were able to take plenty of pictures. Well, Cori was, my battery died days ago! We could have had spend the whole day just wandering along the impressive cliffs of the westernmost point of Europe watching millions of birds, watching seals in the sea and enjoying the view of an endless horizon. I also always wanted to see the red beach of Rauðasandur, which on the map is really close by, but is actually quite far away. Two of the two sights I wanted to see on the Westfjords weren’t exactly what I expected, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth visting, quite the contrary –  go to the red, endless beach, it’s beautiful, but time it that way that you will arrive during low tide, so you can walk on it. All we got was a green meadow full of aggressively attacking artic turns. The Westfjords offers you sights around every corner and they are not even all marked on the map. Find your own way, your own pace and just enjoy!

With the red beach we reached the south coast of the Westfjords and were ready to start our way back home as we wanted to attend the Secret Solstice Festival in Reykjavík later that night. As we were pretty exhausted we wanted to take a nap before the festival. By then we didn’t know that we would hardly have any time to have a shower. So we travelled along the picturesque south coast searching for Hellulaug, a natural hot pot close to the beach. It was not too easy to find as the sign was poiting in the wrong direction, away from us. First it was quite crowded, but after a while we were the only ones with the nicely warm water, the sounds of nature and a hell of a view over the fjord. Mind that there are no booths whatsoever, if you want to change your clothes you have to do it

a) in your car,
b) quick or
c) with serenity – everybody has seen someone naked before! After this really relaxing dip we headed back home in bright sunshine. This was really one of the most amazing trips on this amazing island. Thanks Cori, for being my companion on this Icelandic road trip.

Icelandic road trip

Round Trip Playlist

We highly recommend to take some music devices, CD’s, cassettes or whatsoever with you if you don’t want to listen to the white noise all the time as high mountain ridges block the poor radio signal away most of the time. Here is what we listened to during our trip:

  1. Materia – Zum Glück in die Zukunft II
  2. Jack Johnson– From here to now to you
  3. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto
  4. Alle Farben Remix (Fusion 2013)

>>>BTW: Camping is just allowed on declared camping grounds. Please respect the delicate and precious nature of the Westfjords as well as of Iceland in general.<<<

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